Philadelphia Union are back in action at Subaru Park on Saturday night with a showdown against D.C. United at Subaru Park. Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the media on Wednesday afternoon ahead of the rivalry match. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Red Bull Reflections
Last Thursday’s 1-1 draw in northern New Jersey against the Red Bulls was a match where chances were “few and far between,” according to Curtin. Given the team had to play with 10 men for the last 33 minutes, Curtin was happy with the team’s work rate and mentality. He singled out Sergio Santos’ performance off the bench in particular.
“Sergio came off the bench and gave us a really strong performance,” Curtin said. “I had hoped to go to him earlier, but we adjusted and went for it when we thought the time was right, and he made a big play for us, scored a big goal. His work rate in that game was incredible. The number of sprints he had in the game was more than some over the course of the 90 minutes. He did it in about 20.”
Curtin said that the thought Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood’s tackle on Jamiro Monteiro should have been a red card given what he heard in preseason meetings about how games would be officiated.
“[It was] the exact kind of challenge the league wanted to outlaw from the referee meetings,” Curtin said. “I think [Yearwood is] a very talented player. I love hard, physical play, but that one, to me, was a shot to Jamiro [Monteiro]’s head. Maybe part of it is because Miro’s a little shorter, but still, the force and the intent there, I believe, was worthy of a red card."
Preparing for the D.C. Challenge
D.C. United has taken seven points from its last four matches while the Union have taken four in the same span, and one of those D.C. wins includes a 7-1 victory over Toronto FC. Curtin knows his side will have to be at their best against D.C. United Head Coach Hernan Losada’s team.
“They’re very organized, very disciplined, and they have belief right now,” Curtin said. “[They’re] a team that’s very relentless in their pursuit to win the ball, they run, they fight for every inch, and I enjoy watching them play. It will be a very difficult match, two good teams, and it’s nice to finally be back home.”
D.C. currently sit just below the playoff line in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, just one point behind the 7th-placed New York Red Bulls who occupy the final playoff spot. Though the visiting team has been in good form recently, Curtin gets the added bonus of Ilsinho’s return from injury—he played 25 minutes in an intrasquad scrimmage this week and looked ready for game action
“I expect a very competitive match,” Curtin said. “One where we’ll have to execute in all phases: with the ball, without the ball, attacking and defending restarts, and transitions. We’ll have to be at the top of our game to come out on top.
With the Union without goalkeeper Matt Freese due to his red card suspension and Jamiro Monteiro for yellow card accumulation, Curtin said that veteran Joe Bendik will be between the sticks on Saturday night while fans will get to see Hungarian midfielder Daniel Gazdag back at his more natural No. 10 role after an impressive performance at forward paired alongside Kacper Przybylko.
Ernst Tanner’s Contract Extension
Sporting Director Ernst Tanner signed a multi-year contract extension with the club after helping to lead the Union to the two best seasons in club history. Curtin signed a contract extension himself a few weeks ago, and the two have worked closely to build the team.
“Ernst was a highly sought-after candidate at a lot of top clubs in Europe this past offseason, even clubs in our own league because of the success he’s brought to the Philadelphia Union,” Curtin said. “For him to choose to stay here is a big deal. In our discussions that we had over the course of the past seasons, we both felt that we had more to give, that the project was still a very exciting one, that we had more trophies to win, that we had more young kids that we wanted to develop and not just leave them.
The club’s first trophy, the 2020 Supporters’ Shield, came under Tanner’s tenure, and the club wants to continue on that winning path.
“I love working with Ernst,” Curtin said. “He’s been a great mentor and leader for me. It’s been a great fit. Again, the work that he’s done and the players that he’s provided me with has been really special, so I was happy to see things got finalized.”